Leave it to a driver sponsored by a paving company to conquer “The Road.”
Chase Dowling took charge in the second half of Sunday afternoon’s Granite City 100 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl to win the first-ever Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series race at the historic Vermont bullring.
Dowling’s win, part of the track’s 59th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic program, marked the first time a Tour-type Modified had visited victory lane at Thunder Road in twelve years.
“I want to stop and say to all of you guys here and the fans, this is badass,” Dowling said. “All of you guys coming out on Memorial Day, it’s great to see a great crowd, this is a great facility. The car was on rails today. The crew did a great job.”
The last remaining paved oval in the Green Mountain State, Thunder Road is perhaps best known as the epicenter of Late Model racing in northern New England. The American-Canadian Tour has called Thunder Road home since the 1980s, and ACT’s Late Model platform is used at tracks throughout the region. Thunder Road’s signature race, the Vermont Milk Bowl, is widely considered one of the toughest short track races in the country to tame.
Open-wheel cars at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement,” though, have been scarce. The Modified Racing Series enjoyed three years as part of the Memorial Day Classic from 2008 through 2010. But Tour-type Modifieds, under NASCAR or MRS or any other sanction, have not been on the track’s calendar since.
Kirk Alexander, winner of the 2008 Memorial Day Classic, had the strongest mount early on. Alexander dueled with Sam Rameau for the early lead, taking the point in lapped traffic and building a modest lead on the Massachusetts youngster. Under a caution for a lap-33 wreck, Rameau ducked into the pits, leaving Alexander to battle Dowling and Anthony Nocella.
The veteran Alexander held his own until halfway, when Dowling turned up the heat. After pressuring Alexander for a couple laps, Dowling found his opening with 52 laps on the scoreboard. Alexander was left to fend off Nocella, eventually ceding the runner-up spot with 25 laps left.
A caution four laps later jumbled the field through pit stops and a choose cone, with Dowling and Nocella leading Ronnie Williams and Matt Hirschman to the green flag. While Williams kept Hirschman at bay, Dowling and Nocella were able to distance themselves from the field. “Big Money Matt” finally dove around Williams for third, but with only a few laps to go, it was too little too late.
Leading the final 48 laps around Thunder Road, Dowling picked up his sixth career Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series win.
Nocella was second at the stripe, with Hirschman third. Williams and early leader Alexander rounded out the top five.
At one time a rising star on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Dowling has settled into a trophy-hunting role with car owner Ben Dodge. Championships are not entirely off the table; the Roxbury, Conn. racer was second in Tri-Track points last year, but the pair are focused on victories.
Dowling’s sixth Tri-Track win stands second only to Hirschman, the six-time champion of the Modified all-star series. While fifteen drivers have picked up Tri-Track victories since 2014, Hirschman has been far and away the most dominant, picking up 14 wins in his 36 starts. Only Dowling, Ron Silk, Sam Rameau and Jon McKennedy have more than one Tri-Track win.
Sunday afternoon’s win, though, is special in the moment. It came at a venue far removed from the Tri-Track Series’ usual haunts in southern New England, far removed from Modified racing altogether. In the moment, in the Tri-Track history books, it stands alone.
Unofficial Results, Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series Granite City 100 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl:
1. (9CT) Chase Dowling
2. (92) Anthony Nocella
3. (60) Matt Hirschman
4. (25) Ronnie Williams
5. (76) Kirk Alexander
6. (6) Woody Pitkat
7. (89) Matt Swanson
8. (15MA) Jake Johnson
9. (25NH) Brian Robie
10. (5) Chris Pasteryak
11. (50) Matthew Kimball
12. (21) Richard Savary
13. (13) Dylan Izzo
14. (55B) Robert Bloxsom III
15. (06MA) Sam Rameau
16. (20) Max Zachem
17. (51) Anthony Bello
18. (04) Joey Jarvis
19. (06) Les Hinckley III
20. (50M) Carl Medeiros, Jr.
21. (24) Todd Patnode
22. (11) Cory Plummer
23. (20C) Chase Cook
24. (95) TJ Bleau
25. (79VT) Jason Bonnett